Why did you embark on shared leadership and different ways of working?
The world was turbulent and we were struggling to cope with everything that was coming at us. Housing policy changes were happening by the hour, and we just couldn’t keep up with them – initiatives the Government were throwing at us, we just couldn’t understand them all because they were just too complex and difficult – and at some point you’ve got to think if this is the future, if this is the norm, how do we handle this? So we decided, yes, let’s work with people inside the business.
I think we were already pretty collaborative. There was a bit of a platform there in any case, but I wanted to ramp it up – and that’s what we did. I decided the future was the people, which was really interesting and contradictory in many ways, but that was when we started on the Shared Leadership approach.
I started life as a very junior member of staff in the organisation and if someone had said to me, all those years ago, ‘You’re going to have a stronger voice and we are going to listen to you more, and you are going to have some great influence on this business, and you can shape the future of this organisation. We want you to be creative and we are going to support and develop you through that – by the way, you’re going to have to take some more responsibility.’ I would have taken someone’s arm off for that.
We value everyone in this business and we want to hear from them and we want them to be involved and we know they’ll be able to make some great decisions, and we trust them. Trust is much more significant than it has been, because we know our staff are great at what they do.
I thought we would have a chance to resolve some major challenges through this Shared Leadership process. I was worried about the amount of people who were going off with work-related stress, because it’s a bit of an indication about what’s going on with the rest of the business, and I didn’t want that for the future. I didn’t want people in the business who felt really stressed. I think stress often comes from people who don’t have a voice, and feel frustrated but have nowhere to go with that – it’s not always the external world that causes that stress, it’s often just an inability to change things.
We opened the doors to Oasis, our organisational development partners, and said ‘you need to talk to whoever you need to talk to – we need to hear, we need to listen, we need to learn, we need to understand and we need to change – you go wherever you need to go and do whatever you need to do.’ For many just being heard made a big difference, just understanding that the business cared that they were feeling stressed, it was cathartic for them. And not only being heard but knowing that what was heard would then translate into changes, was very powerful.
Fundamentally it was about developing the right relationships with people. The results of that work were quite significant, better than I could have hoped – and it does make you wonder why others don’t do it, because it’s not that difficult!
I recognised that this change needed to start at the very top. You have to have very good and very strong role models because you have to walk the walk yourself before you can expect anyone to come with you. So we did start with myself and the senior team, and we developed new ways of operating, new relationships built on trust and dialogue.
We spent time developing relationships and then we all made shifts together. We all had to have our own learning goals and we had to learn how to do Self And Peer Assessments – which is quite a brave thing to do in our environment, particularly as the Chief Exec, but it was absolutely the right thing to do.
Our future planning is done completely differently to most organisations. Often in organisations that sort of vision work is done at a senior level or at board level, and then at best staff are consulted about it and can have some involvement – but mostly they are told what the vision is and then they are told they have to deliver it – we didn’t do any of that, we did it completely differently.
Because people have had involvement in setting the vision, and the goals and objectives, we’ve worked it out together. All of us have had to do research, all of us have had to give and receive feedback, take challenge, stand by what we feel is important and involve our teams in that. There can be no part of the vision that people within this business haven’t had an ability to influence.
By the time we got the future picture work done, everyone understood every bit of it, and they felt it was realistic, and they knew what their role was in terms of delivery. It is totally owned and shared by everyone, and therefore is being delivered very successfully.
We are working in a really tough environment. We face an ever-changing legislative agenda from Government and having to make widespread savings. In many organisations I am aware of, those budget cuts have been done through the Finance Directors and the Chief Exec and then the staff have been told what they are – and a lot of that is around job losses – we’ve not done that at all.
Last year the Government forced us to make £4m of cuts – inevitably with a sum that large we had to make hard decisions about how we prioritised front-line services. We wanted all the teams in the organisation to fully understand what we were faced with – and we wanted everyone in the business to be involved in the process. We took everyone’s ideas and suggestions. Everyone had a view. And everyone’s view was important. Then we met with everyone and started to pool together what we had.
We were quite overwhelmed by what the suggestions were. With their help, and their assistance, and their goodwill, and commitment, and ownership, and shared leadership in practice, we found four and a half million pounds and didn’t have to make anyone redundant. Together and collectively we have sorted it.
What I get from people in this business is a highly motivated workforce, having made four and a half million in cuts! That’s pretty interesting.
I am delighted that all the work we have done, to create a more relational organisation is getting international recognition. Changing culture to one that has more shared leadership is well written about but not often practiced. Our shift to this approach has resulted in some great achievements and a much stronger business. It is great that we are now getting to share all of this with fellow housing professionals in Australia. Hopefully, working alongside Oasis, we can get across a flavour of what can be achieved so that others can benefit from this learning too.
Notes to editors:
About The Oasis School of Human Relations
The Oasis School of Human Relations focuses on learning and development, consultancy and research. We are a not-for-profit organisation based in Boston Spa.
We apply a peer-based collaborative approach to develop and inspire responsible practice and leadership across all sectors, equipping leaders, managers, practitioners and organisations with the skills, strategies and attitudes required to flourish.
As a partner of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative since 2004, Oasis has an international reputation for its work and research and is considered a leader in the field of Whole Person Learning.
To find out more visit www.oasishumanrelations.org.uk
About North Star Housing Group
North Star Housing Group is in receipt of a number of prestigious awards for its work in engaging staff and innovative leadership and was named 14th on the Sunday Times Best 100 Not For Profit Organisations in 2015.
We work hard at being a good partner, employer and landlord by involving and empowering people and working with one another. We listen, learn and reflect. We place people and communities at the centre of all we do and we encourage and welcome challenge.
We provide local, personal and responsive services and individual solutions where needed. We encourage people to think creatively and imaginatively.
We never promise what we cannot deliver and we work in an open and transparent way. We are committed to providing equality of opportunity, we treat everyone with respect and we value people’s differences. We own up when things do not go right and work hard at finding solutions.
We aim to deliver excellence in all we do. We are committed to working ethically and do all we can to help with environmental issues. We deliver value for money and ensure staff are highly trained and developed.
Known as an organisation that “punches above its weight”, we are courageous, enthusiastic and innovative. We are committed to growth and delivering bespoke solutions even when it is not the easy option. We do challenging work that benefits communities.
Organisations that are individually successful can be stronger and more effective when they unite, particularly when it comes to addressing the complex issues associated with rural and urban housing and community regeneration.
This is the thinking behind the North Star Housing Group. North Star brings together the skills, resources and values of Endeavour and Teesdale Housing Associations to form an equal partnership. We are a strong body with a clear vision of what we want to achieve for the people who live in the region. All of this culminates in an exciting new phase in the creation of affordable, high quality housing and sustainable communities.